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CKE Restaurants plans to overhaul advertising for its two biggest brands as it searches for ways to stem declining sales.

The nation's sixth-largest restaurant company is revamping advertising for both the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains.

No agency reviews are expected at CKE, said Bob Wisely, exec VP-marketing.

Mendelsohn/Zien, Los Angeles, is the longtime agency for Carl's Jr.; Leap Partnership, Chicago, was tapped last year to handle Hardee's, the ailing Southeast chain CKE acquired in 1997.

Together, the chains spent $84 million for measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Hardee's is the fourth-largest U.S. chain, while Carl's Jr. ranks seventh, according to Technomic.


This comes against a backdrop of even bigger ad changes in the cutthroat burger business. Two months ago, amid sagging sales, Burger King Corp. changed a once-popular campaign and has yet to find the right recipe for new creative. And McDonald's Corp. is working to give its ads more resonance.

The ad changes also come as CKE's stock hovers at 52-week lows, and as Wall Street questions its bold move to acquire Hardee's, a once-vibrant brand that has sagged for years under management changes, tired restaurants and marketing missteps.

CKE officials acknowledged at a BancBoston Robertson Stephens conference that the turnaround task is bigger than they expected.

For the quarter ended Aug. 9, sales slipped by 3.8% at Carl's Jr. and by 2.9% at Hardee's, compared with the same period a year ago.


This week, executives at Carl's Jr. are slated to hear fresh ideas from Mendelsohn/Zien. The work will be launched in January, said Mr. Wisely, who added that it won't use celebrities and will appeal to both young men and women.

Out will be TV spots like the one that featured ex-NBA bad-boy Dennis Rodman, or another that showed a buxom woman dripping ketchup on her white dress.

"The messy, drippy campaign, and the tonality, which is pretty much in your face, has pretty much run its course," said Mr. Wisely, who is also a Carl's Jr. franchisee. "It needs to have the lens widened and be less exclusionary and more dual gender oriented."

Andrew Barish, an analyst with BancBoston Robertson Stephens, agreed. "I think they need another message out there," he said. "It looks like it has run its course."


Over the past four years, Carl's Jr. has targeted young males with huge appetites for food and females. Its tagline: "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face."

Although the tagline will change, burgers still will be in the spotlight, and charbroiled cooking will be played up, Mr. Wisely said. He said ad spending will remain at the same levels.

At Hardee's, the chain plans to downplay its spokescharacter -- a star, introduced last spring in Leap's first work for the company.

That advertising, which uses the voice of "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Norm Macdonald, was too edgy for the chain's Southeastern and Midwestern customers, observers said.

One spot that drew customer complaints showed the star asking a woman he just met in a disco if she'd like to have breakfast at Hardee's the next morning.

"The hip and cool demeanor just doesn't resonate," Mr. Wisely said. "What we've learned over time is that the marketplace doesn't want Hardee's to be that way."


There will be a dialed-up emphasis on Hardee's three-year Nascar sponsorship, now entering its second year. Drivers will appear in TV spots as pitchmen.

The 2,786-unit chain also will switch focus from just burgers to the breakfast and dinner items customers have come to know it for.

Hardee's, which has had some seven agencies over the past 11 years, is sticking with Leap, Mr. Wisely said.

"We're going to stick with one agency and let the creative people do what they

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